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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Church Leadership and Planting and the Grace to Die - BSSM2 Update #4

Dear friends and family,

There seems to be a lot of moving pieces to this particular season of mine, which has been a great opportunity for learning how to hold onto peace and rest in the midst of craziness, and let go of needing control (I didn't realize till this Fall how deep my need for control - or at least perceived control - went).

Church Leadership and Planting

One reason for this that I haven't mentioned yet is that I'm actually the leader of a "micro-church" plant here in Redding. This comes as a part of a combined class and city-service track that I'm in - Church Leadership and Planting. It's been the most intimidating part of school for me. I knew it would be, but I felt God leading me both to be a part of the track and also to apply for a leadership position (being the primary leader / vision-caster for anything is not a comfortable place for me, I'm much more comfortable giving input on how to make someone else's vision work well).

I lead a team of seven (that includes me), and my housemate of two years, Wynand, is my co-leader. We have three other second-years and two first-years. It's a classic example of the leader being the one who's probably the least qualified, really. We have a woman who helped lead a full-blown revival in her high school in Trinidad and Tobago, another from England who was a missionary in Cambodia for five years, working in a red-light district. And our ringers are a couple who have been in church leadership and ministry for over 30 years! Even my co-leader has been to seminary and I haven't. But it builds confidence to know that I felt like I was supposed to apply, and that the leaders of the track felt the same, so I'm learning to just own it, keep learning, and pushing into his voice and presence and word when I start to feel overwhelmed.

The track overall is run by seasoned church planter Michael Brodeur who planted and led churches in San Francisco for over 30 years, and who now coaches pastors all around the globe. Getting to hear him teach almost every week is one of my favorite parts of school - his insights into church government, culture, and developing leaders are absolutely incredible. Sitting under him is like drinking from a fire-hose: he moves fast and packs every minute with loads of scripture and insight.

Relational connections have also been a big part of the track - it's crazy how many people in the track (both students and leadership) have a huge heart for the ME, including my third-year overseer. Given that's where I feel I'm headed, it'll be exciting to see what might be in store.

The Grace to Die

I'd say another big part of the last month or so has been this increasing, almost throbbing prayer in my system for the grace to die. By that I mean I've been experiencing a building longing for the reality of the cross to be made known in every area of my life. Because any area in our lives not touched by the cross cannot be touched by resurrection life, and so will only experience a cheap form of life and not the fullness of what our King paid for. Along with this, I want to experience a greater measure of the person of the Holy Spirit, and operate out of the faith of God, rather than depending on my own measly measure of faith.

It's a lot of nice words, but how do we actually step into that?

In just a week we have preach week and I was assigned Philippines 2:3-11. As I've been reflecting on that passage and the kind of life that Christ puts before us, it dawned on me afresh that this passage actually affirms that both humility and glorification are part of our portion as the Bride of Christ, but we don't actually have direct control over either of those things in our lives - glorification only lies on the other side of humility, and humility actually only lies on the other side of obedience. How do you walk in love? You walk in the commandments of Christ, and in so-doing abide in him and become love.

May each of us have the grace every day to see what's asked of us, and to step into it.

Testimonies

Our micro-church focuses on reaching out to students at our local community college - Shasta College. During our first outreach on campus, two people gave their lives to Jesus! The greatest miracle of all. Hallelujah. Needless to say we were all bouncing off the wall with joy. Another person gave their life to Jesus the next week.

A couple of weeks ago Bethel hosted a leaders conference. Wynand went to a barbecue for South Africans and met an amazing South African living and working in London. Wynand invited the man to go to the service with us the next day, and the man offered to get brunch for him and a friend. So Wynand invited me. We ended up hanging out pretty much all day, just enjoying each other's company and talking about Jesus and what we're seeing him do in our different spheres. Before the gentleman left we prayed and prophesied for him, then he shared that God had told him to give us each $500 towards ministry / missions! How wild is that! I put it all towards The Send and now only have to raise slightly less than $300 more dollars.

This one's not directly connected to me, but it's so awesome I have to share. Right now a big stadium event is happening in Melbourne, Australia, put on by an Australian graduate of BSSM. Almost 100 of my classmates and friends are there serving and flooding the streets with the love and power of God. At one of the sessions, a man who had been mute for 25 years asked for prayer, typing out his request on his phone. Well, he got totally restored and the first words out of his mouth were "Thank you, Jesus!" Come on!

And lastly - a few weeks ago we had the privilege of hearing Andy Byrd of YWAM speak (one of the most hope-inducing speakers I've heard). At the end of his message the power went out in the building, and it turned into a powerful time of corporate worship in the dark. Just the day before Bill Johnson had preached a message that had brought the conviction of the Spirit upon me as He revealed the depth to which I still allowed finances to control my peace, and the extent to which I still held onto control. I had allowed myself to fall into the assumption that it would take a long time to get that out of my system. But as we worshiped in the dark the Spirit took me back to when he had fallen on me in the plane returning from East Asia and performed that amazing heart surgery over the course of just a few days. So he took me into a time of confession and repentance and fell on me like that once more. And it was incredible, like before - bringing fresh passion that conviction really is one of the most priceless and beautiful treasures.

Prayer Requests

That my micro-church would find a venue to host our meetings. We've been struggling on this front, but know God will pave a way. We had our first informal meet-and-greet at a tea shop, but need a private space we can use starting the week after Thanksgiving.

For a greater sense of clarity each day during this season to know what to focus on and how to get the most out of my time here. Much more than first year, I feel like I don't have a particularly clear gauge of how I'm growing or what exactly's happening in my overarching season. So I've been focusing first and foremost on being present each day and moment and getting the most out of what's in front of me, trusting that down the road I'll have more understanding. I don't think it's a bad thing, I think it's mostly part of this journey of God stripping away my need for control or understanding of what's going on in and around me.

For the finances to make my trips to The Send and the Philippines happen. I've linked to accounts for both trips if you would like to give. You can read more about either trip in the last update I sent (which came from tm.blackiris@gmail.com and via mailchimp, as I was trying a new thing. For some of you it may have ended up being shucked into a promotional tab within your inbox).

Since the last update we've had our first Philippines team meeting. One of the things I'm excited about is that I really do think it's just about the best you can get of short-term missions. We're being lead by a born and raised Filipino who's from one of the cities we'll be going to. This trip has been running for 9 years, and we've been partnering with many of these churches and ministries the whole time, and our leader has been leading the entire 9 years as well. So there's an established history, and they know how to utilize us and also build upon and manage what we're able to do in our short two weeks. We even have a few Filipinos on our team who grew up receiving from the Bethel team in the past, and are now at BSSM themselves and going back on the trip!

The next deadline I have is for the Philippines on December 14th - $225 (with $1,605 due total at the time of this writing).



As always, thank you for your time and your support in all the wonderful and various ways! May the Lord's face shine upon you.

Love,
Thani

Friday, September 28, 2018

BSSM2 - off to an awesome start!

Friends and family! I hope this letter finds you in splendid health and good spirits. =)

Gabe Venezuela (Bill Johnson's son-in-law)
is the head of second year.

It finds me almost a month into school, heading off tomorrow for our retreat week, and, upon return, transitioning into our first trimester, city services, and the full swing of things.

I want to start off with a praise and big thank you! Thanks to several very generous gifts and the money I made in Alaska, I’m now fully covered for tuition and rent for the entire year. Your support and belief in me and what I’m going after is humbling and means the world!

In the vein of testimony, here’s a fun one from a couple of weeks ago - my 1st-year housemate (Thomas) and I went to pick-up soccer one morning and I hit him in the face pretty hard. He told me he was fine and I thought no more of it. About three days later another one of my housemates came and got me and told me we needed to pray for Thomas. It turned out his nose was still hurting from soccer, but he hadn’t told me. Well, we prayed and he was instantly healed! Hallelujah. Sometimes small “insignificant” healings are some of the most fun. If it matters to us, it matters to him.

2nd Year -

It’s hard to explain, but the atmosphere and feel of 2nd year is very different from 1st year. It’s smaller and more intimate. There’s a deeper focus and unity. Today we had our first revival group gathering (an almost entirely different set of people from last year), and it was crazy how different it was from the first gathering last year - the fact that some of us already knew each other aside, you could tell we were all on the same page in a way we weren’t last year, because now we’ve been sitting under the same leaders and teachers and vision-casters for a year, pursuing the face of Jesus together.
1st revival group meeting - prophetic musical chairs to
prepare for blessing the 1st-years at retreat

Rightly, the expectations for excellence are higher - and as the year is focused largely around leadership, one of the ways this translates is the expectation that we’ll be serving consistently in very practical ways. If there’s a conference, we’re expected to be there, setting up chairs and ushering, or in the kitchen chopping potatoes. If there's a need Bethel's helping with in the city, we're going to be there doing whatever we can. We also have the privilege of pouring out on the 1st-years, championing them in our city services.

It would take too long to recount all the ways God is already moving and speaking, both in my life, and the class corporately, but I’m so excited for the year I’m practically bouncing off the walls (as well as being nervous - as God seems to be steering me directly into places fear still has hold of me. Hallelujah: God loves us too much to leave us in bondage to anything other than himself).

Wherever you may be, whatever seems to be going on around you, I want to say take hope, take courage - Aslan is on the move. One of the great privileges of being at Bethel, that I cannot take for granted, is that with it being such a place of network, we hear testimonies of the crazy things God is doing all over the world in so many different spheres. If you didn’t know, just this last weekend a large stadium event took place in Portland, Oregon that over 100 churches and ministries from a wide variety of backgrounds, denominations, and “streams” made happen by coming together and setting aside differences for the sake of the proclamation of the gospel. The event itself was a couple of days, but people poured onto the streets for days beforehand to encounter everyone they could find with the power and love of God. Not only that, but structure was in place to plug all the new believers into churches and discipleship programs - nets to catch the harvest.

Living once again with my South African housemate from last
year has been one of the greatest joys so far this year
God showed up! The testimonies are endless - but people walked out of wheelchairs, arthritis was healed, and countless numbers rushed the stage to give their lives to Jesus. Many BSSM students went to help, and when they came back the presence of God was electric at school with all that he had done.

Ministry Trips -

One of the big parts of 2nd year is ministry trips. Sometimes it looks like a stadium event like that one, sometimes it looks like just a few people in a small country church. These are distinct from missions trips (like the Asia trip from last year). They’re basically opportunities throughout the year for us to go with a leader and serve him or her in whatever way they ask as they speak at a conference, throw an arts & healing event, or whatever the case may be. There’s a huge emphasis on us taking advantage of these trips as best we can, as it’s really an incredible opportunity to get to travel with world-class leaders and learn from them and serve alongside them all over the world (the teams are typically quite a bit smaller than the missions teams). We can travel as much as three weeks (this doesn’t include missions) throughout the year, provided we’re always up to date on all our assignments and classes.

I have already been accepted to my first of these trips. Last year God put the dream in my heart to get to travel to Asia with Ben Armstrong, the leader of prophetic ministries here at Bethel. Just a week or so ago, God spoke to me prophetically at school through another student, and I went home to see that Ben was leading a trip to Taiwan, one of the countries in Asia I’ve most been longing to go to.

I have a deep love for all things far-east and southeast Asian, ever since I was little, and my heart comes alive on Asian soil. I’ve traveled there a lot in the last few years for ministry, and I believe the love God has given me for Asia ties into the things he wants me to be a part of there.

I’ve also gotten many words about the prophetic and moving in the prophetic. Many of you know I went after that gift hardcore last year, while at the same time it’s a place I’ve struggled with a lot of self-doubt. Finally, after missions in the Spring I felt I had to give up my right to the consistent self-doubt. God’s not interested in it. As I look to move forward in this gifting, stewarding the words God has spoken over me, I believe that this trip with Ben, the prophetic ministries leader, is an important step.

An old picture from last Christmas. But these guys were 2/3 of my small group last year.
This year we're not required to have a small group, but we're continuing to meet and be
intentional about deepening these relationships we felt God very intentionally gave us. Andres
(middle) is in my revival group again!


The trip is from October 15th-22nd, and costs $1,400. If you would like to give towards it, you can do so here. The deadline is essentially immediately (technically we’re past it, due to a weird set of circumstances I was accepted after the deadline - also, this is tax deductible).

Many of you have already given generously, and I do not take $1 for granted. May you be blessed abundantly for your generosity. I’m going to squeeze as much as I can from my weekly budget to go towards these trips (bye home-brewed coffee), and I’m also working to generate additional income on top of what I make with my part-time job - but cannot get the most out of the year without some more help.

May your heart be uplifted today,
Nathaniel

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

From 3rd Year in Alaska to 2nd Year at BSSM!

Dear Friends and Family,

I’m back from my third year working with sockeye salmon in Naknek, Alaska and setting my sights and my heart toward the second year of BSSM.

This year in Alaska was very different from the previous two, but God’s grace was more prevalent than ever. Even though I did not get the specific position I had been looking and hoping for, God did have a promotion in store. I moved from working as a processor in the Roe (salmon eggs) department to working in Quality Assurance up in the main plant. I was primarily in the Packing department (which meant I went from the quietest, warmest department to the loudest and coldest one! We were in and out of giant freezers all day), but got cross-trained in every department in the plant and got to learn the whole process from start to finish of what we do up there.

BSSM homework in Alaska with a BSSM recruit and roommate
(Alaskan roommate, that is)!

Another big difference this time around from years past was the strong presence of a Christian community. A friend from high school (it was his third year in AK as well) and I decided to form a prayer and Bible-study group each night during the “pre-season” (the time before we started working 16-hour shifts). Between the five of us who had grown up in Jordan together, the four students I had recruited from BSSM, and other Christians we connected with while we were up there we had quite the group that was gathering every night for two weeks - we couldn’t pass unnoticed, and a lot of people started to ask questions and even stop in to get prayer.

We were spread throughout every department in the plant, and one of my favorite things was just to hear the testimonies of how God used each person to encourage others, lift the atmosphere, bring healings, and spread the Gospel. One non-believer who had his shoulder healed couldn’t stop telling others about it, and another guy gave his life to Jesus! Hallelujah!

Nightly gatherings for prayer were a highlight 
Summers with Leader Creek (the company I work for) are always hard yet rewarding, and I would never trade them. One of the most definitive things this particular Summer was the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Every day felt like “lessons with God” as he taught me about about a variety of topics, including leadership (specifically in the workplace), excellence, working for legacy and what I can’t see, wealth, and favor. God gave me favor in the eyes of my leaders, and it was clear to me that it had very little to do with anything I did (other than a general good work ethic and desire to do well) and very much to do with his workings. At the end of the season I even had the great privilege of getting to prophesy over two of my leads, neither of whom are Christians!

These are just a few of the ways God was working while we were up there.

God’s provision was great, between a long season and many hours (six weeks total, and almost 500 work hours in just five of those!), and various little raises and bonuses here and there. However, even so, the money I made still fell short of what I was able to make between the last two seasons combined, almost all of which went to the single year of BSSM (tuition + rent). So there’s still a need, as I can’t pay for my tuition and my rent this year with just the money I made in Alaska and the money I’ll make from my part-time job during the year. But God’s a lot bigger than that need! If you feel led to be a part of an answer to prayer and sow financially into the things God’s doing in and through my life this next year, you can give through this link, where you can also see the updated amount I have left to pay on my tuition - https://my.bssm.net/donations/transactions/new?student=251043. At the time of this writing it’s at $4,275 that I need to pay. That’s all that’ll need to be paid if it’s paid in full by August 14th (just under a week from the time of this writing). If it’s not, I’ll owe another $225 (because of missing the early-bird deadline), and $2,250 will be due by August 22nd (two weeks away).

The next couple of weeks I’ll be finishing up my Summer homework assignments, spending some time with family in Santa Cruz, and spending a lot of time in the Bible and prayer - seeking the word of the Lord for this next year, seeking what he’s planning to do in and through me, so that I can partner with that as best as I know how and get all that he would have for me out of this second year at Bethel.

A last short testimony - due to some misunderstanding, the housing I had set up before going to Alaska for this next year fell through. However, in just a very short amount of time God opened the doors for a great situation, locationally, relationally, and financially for this next year, and I got everything set and in order just two days before moving back to Redding!

Thank you for all your prayers and support, financial and otherwise! They are powerful.

Love,
Thani

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Naruto: The End Draws Nigh


Naruto marches slowly and semi-methodically to its close. The manga finished two years ago, and now the anime has at long last almost caught up. Reportedly, the last episode airs next week.

I myself am still over a hundred episodes behind. But while a formidable task yet remains ahead of me, I cannot help but already feel the nearness of the inevitable, and that mixed feeling all lovers of any series (whether book, show, movie, game or comic) knows of compulsion to finish in order to know all and the wish to stave off the end of something so dear.

When I think of the stories and characters that captured my imagination in middle and high school, Cassandra Clare's The Draco Trilogy and Naruto (including both the original and Shippuden) rise above the rest. No doubt The Draco Trilogy held first place at the time. But I do believe that as time has gone on that I have spent more time thinking about Naruto than about Draco (of course, this is at least partially, if not arguably entirely due to the fact that Naruto is still ongoing while Draco finished long ago at this point).

Someone may wonder how the two most influential stories for a kid who grew up in a family who deeply treasures literature and art, who studied lit at Oxford, and who has a passion for Shakespeare thanks to a history of acting, could be a Harry Potter fanfiction and a highly commercialized anime. And if asked today, I would still say that these are my favorite book and anime series, and I would say it with only a hint of embarrassment.

The thing is, I am not blind to the shortcomings of either of these series. Just like someone's family members, their closest friends, and their lover knows their flaws better than anyone else, I know the weaknesses of these two series more intimately than anyone who would only read the first book or watch the first few seasons. Yet still I love them deeply. Why?

Not too long ago, someone smarter than me, more articulate than me, and substantially more knowledgeable of all things Japanese and anime related than me asked me what it was that I liked about Naruto so much. I babbled something about characters and themes and action sequences that made me feel like I woefully failed to defend Naruto like it deserved and made me embarrassed, not for loving the show, but for loving the show if that poor excuse for critical analysis was all the show had going for it.

As he turned and walked away after our conversation, he said he refrained from watching shows that long unless they were truly life changing.

And all I could think was, "it's changed my life."

I'm not sure I can call Naruto good art. It definitely won't change you're ideology or give you some kind of cognitive epiphany (well, maybe it would for someone, but I don't think that's its strong suit). It doesn't break ground with its animation, it doesn't provide some amazing critique of society, it doesn't test boundaries, destroy stereotypes, or blur false dichotomies. I'm currently reading Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects, and she's made me wonder whether a good story is necessarily good art, and I'm starting to think no.

I don't think I think Naruto is good art. But I do think it's a damn good story, even if deeply flawed.

Yet I'm still not entirely sure how to articulate why I think Naruto is so good, why it has affected me to such an extent, and why it has effectively captured my imagination more than perhaps any other thing I've seen or read.

But as I "draw to a close" with this series I love so much (remember, I still have over a hundred episodes to go), I hope to write more on Naruto to help me be able to articulate it better. I want to know, for my own sake, why this thing has the ability to consistently draw me to tears and make me laugh out loud and cause me to pump my fist and whoop. Why often when I encounter something difficult I think about this show and these characters, and find encouragement and hope.


Hopefully along the way I will not only discover something about the show, but about myself and about God as well.

The Jesus Fast: A Response

A call to fast by a one of the great fasters of our age. Lou Engle has given his life to fasting and releasing the grace of fasting to younger generations -- raising a cry regarding the power of, and need for, extended corporate fasting. You can't read his books or hear him speak and not know that this man believes that fasting shapes history.

It convicts me and challenges me in difficult ways. In part, of course, because nobody really likes fasting. It's really hard. And Lou pushes for forty day fasts in particular -- the hardest of all. But I've tasted of the fruit of fasting myself, and know there's a lot to gain here (though at this point I'd say I've still had more rather pointless fasts than fruitful fasts -- I'm still learning much).

But that's the smaller way in which it challenges me. The harder has to do with the part of shaping history. I grew up thinking about Christianity as largely an individual affair -- a faith centered around changing individuals. Individuals in community, yes, but still a faith and a God primarily concerned with the one -- not with nations and eras and cultures. God has set to work on my thinking in this regard over the last year and a half in particular (and my Dad played a large role in my changing on this), and now I tend to take thinking that God cares about shaping these huge parts of life as a granted (not losing that he cares about the individual, of course -- these are two sides of the same coin).

However, it still tends to make me feel tiny and fills me with the need to run to God and jump in his lap -- the good kind of fear of the Lord? This is the stuff of prophecies, visions and dreams, angels warring in the heavens, symbols and signs and times -- all the stuff in the Bible that makes me the most uncomfortable and feel the most out of my depth.

And Lou does not shy away from exegetical work on movements of history. He proclaims with boldness how certain corporate fasts led to certain key changes and happenings in government and other large spheres. And all that I've seen and been taught about the difficulty of knowing immediately causes me to shrink back and tremble when I hear him make some of these claims.

Yet I'll tell you I wholeheartedly agree that fasting can bring great change, that God still speaks through visions and dreams, that angelic beings exist. And so it is that here I find the great challenge -- to stand up and own the implications of my own beliefs. I do not believe that necessitates that I agree with every exegetical claim that Lou makes, but it does necessitate that I wrestle with them and engage with them and move to fast at times.

What must it have been like for Peter to stand up on the day of pentecost and connect the events that took place to Joel's prophecy? To declare, "this is that"? I'm not sure I would have seen the connection at the time, as I don't entirely see the connection now, but I do believe he was right.

What would it be like, to have it said of you, like it was said of the sons of Issachar, that they were men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do? (1 Chronicles 12:32)

This (interpreting the times) is not something to be done willy-nillie. And I don't believe it's something that can be done without the wisdom and insight of God. But hopefully our longing for understanding will drive us, via the fear of the Lord, deeper into intimacy with him.